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Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/19/2014 08:08:04
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/19/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-bloodshot/

At the end of April, Catalyst Game Labs released the first of many free Quick Start rules sets for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG. I reviewed it two weeks ago and liked what I saw. It took aspects of Savage Worlds and the few good things that exist about the Cortex engine and blended them together in what seems like it will be a fun game. The rules gave a quick overview of how to play, provided some PCs to try out and a full adventure comprising the first arc of the Unity comic. Now the second QSR has been released, and this time it focuses on one of the first four characters from the New Valiant – Bloodshot.

This twenty page PDF focuses on the Harbinger Wars event Valiant had last summer, which pitted Bloodshot, The Harbinger Foundation, the Renegades and the Hard C.O.R.P.S. against each other in an ECW style four way dance. There was a lot of death and violence to be had, but in the end, the Harbinger Foundation won. With the included adventure in this PDF, you and your friends can play as Bloodshot and the psiot children he is guarding in an attempt to either rewrite Valiant history or watch the events unfold in the same tragic way.

One thing worth noting is that the basic rules presented in the Unity Quick Start rules are not in the Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot release. So you will need to download BOTH PDFs to play the adventure provided here. Now, that shouldn’t be a big deal as both sets are FREE after all, but it does mean that if you download the Bloodshot set first, you might be left wondering how to play the included adventure.

While we are on the topic of the Quick Start Rules, I should point out that the mechanics in the Unity PDF are definitely less detailed that what you will see in the eventual core rulebook release. I mean, these are QSR sets after all, so don’t go looking for character creation sets or extremely detailed character sheets. What’s here is simply meant to give you a taste of the game and some idea about how the mechanics will work in the end product.

So what do we get in the Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot? Well we substitute out the rules for a longer adventure and more character stats! You get a brief overview of the Harbinger Wars event followed by a half page of commentary by Bloodshot describing his history (or what little he knows of his) and his goals. The adventure is then broken into four pieces, each of which could technically be an adventure on their own. This essentially makes this PDF a mini-campaign depending on how draw-out each of the four sections are. It’s also worth noting that the adventure is designed for four players, which means with four parts, each one will have a chance to play the Lead Narrator in addition to their character. The fact everyone takes turns running the game is one of the more unusual and potentially interesting aspects of the Valiant Universe RPG, so you may want to decide ahead of time the order each of you will run parts. Of course, as always, you can have one set Narrator. It’s totally your call.

The first part “Forced Entry” (like most of the scenes in this adventure) actually takes place before Harbinger Wars proper, and is when Bloodshot tries to save the Generation Zero kids from Project Rising Spirit (Who in the comics…he eventually ends up working for again. It’s a long story). This scene is interesting as the PCs are in two different groups – you have three PCs playing psiot children. (only the selected three are given stats here. The others will probably be in later PDFs) and one playing as Bloodshot. The kids know Bloodshot as a soulless killer and so have a flee or fight response to him. Meanwhile Bloodshot has to convince them he is there to help rather than murder them…as he did their families when he was under P.R.S.’ control. This does mean things can boil down to PvP and leave one side dead, thus preventing the other three scenes from being played. That’s not a bad thing though. You don’t have to replicate the events of the comic.

Part Two is “The Harada Protocol” where the kids and Bloodshot have to deal with the big bad of the Valiant Universe Toyo Harada. Of course, Harada seems himself as a hero, but that’s a story for another time. This is almost pure combat and gives players a great chance to see the battle mechanics in action. Savvy readers will notice the stats for Toyo Harada as a NPC antagonist are ever so slightly different from his stats in the Unity PDF where he was a PC. It’s simply to make running the game easier as NPCs have truncated stats from the core characters. The only real difference is he is missing the Luck stat, but that’s only for PCs anyway. Since you’ll have both PDFs, if someone really wants to play Harada in a PvP situation, just pull out that character sheet and use it instead.

Part Three is entitled “Promises Broken,” and it has the characters looking for an appropriate source of protein to refuel Bloodshot’s nanites. It’s combat heavy, but it’s also very quick. In our test run, Bloodshot got his nanites back by EATING THE CORPSES OF THE FALLEN OPPONENTS. Which is totally a way to get protein. Just a head’s up.

The final part of the adventure is “Showdown on the Steps” is the one piece that actually takes place in the mini-series. Here you again have Bloodshot Vs Harada, but Harbinger students come into play as well. These are generic students rather than the Eggbreakers from the comic. This is done for simplicity’s sake, although you could get Livewire from the previous QSR and have her as one of the Harbinger Foundation members if you choose. Overall, it’s a fun adventure that sticks closely enough to the Bloodshot side of Harbinger Wars while still being loose enough that players won’t feel they are on rails replicating the comics exactly. Another fun adventure as well as a fine way to continue building hype for the eventual Valiant Universe RPG release.

Again, these PDFs are free, so there is no reason not to pick them up. With each release I’m getting more and more excited for the eventual game and this will be the first super hero game I’m considering purchasing a physical copy of since Mayfair’s old DC line. I’ll be back in two weeks to cover the second of the five Harbinger Wars Quick Start releases. This release will focus on Generation Zero and when it hits on May 31st, it will be as free as all the others, so start making a folder on your computer for all these free Quick Start Rules sets!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot
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A Single, Small Cut
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2014 07:18:02
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/16/tabletop-review-a-singl-
e-small-cut-lamentations-of-the-flame-princess/

A Single, Small Cut is an adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess by author Michael Curtis, who I normally associate with Dungeon Crawl Classics. He’s written some great adventures for that system like Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, The Old Gods Return, and The Sea Queen Escapes. He’s also the author of The Chained Coffin which is currently on Kickstarter and smashing through stretch goal after stretch goal. Since I enjoy his stuff it and it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a LotFP release, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone with this one.

A Single, Small Cut is a short little adventure than can be played in a single session. The PDF is eleven pages long, but only seven pages are the actual adventure. The other four pages are the covers, the title page and a map. The adventure is mostly text. Mechanics only show up in the form of three antagonist stat blocks and a large side bar about the adventure’s MacGuffin. This means you can easily convert A Small, Single Cut to other fantasy games if you prefer, but the flavor and atmosphere will remain LotFP style weirdness no matter what you convert it to. The adventure is designed for six Level 3 characters, but the text does say you can adjust it to higher or lower levels if needed. So all, in all, A Small, Single Cut is a pretty flexible adventure.

In many ways, A Single, Small Cut is about the hypocrisy of religion and a look at how many zealots become the very thing they hate, if not worse. In this case, we have the Order of Kites who have pledged to stamp out heathens in the name of the Church by any means necessary. The leader of this order used a small red bell to summon an extraplanar creature known as The Corrector of Sins to the world. Yes, it’s pagan magic that probably invokes a demon, but hey – there were horrible pagans to uproot and eviscerate! Upon the leader’s death, the demon summoned by his bell was no longer able to be controlled, so it was buried with their leader and left undisturbed for decades (although how did they put the Corrector back after they realized it could no longer be controlled).

This is where the adventure starts as well as where the PCs come in. A magic user and his band of rogues have discovered the whereabouts and powers of the bell and have decided to claim it for their own, not realizing it no longer functions as it did all those years ago. To get it, they are willing to murder the entire congregation of a local church. Unfortunately for everyone involved the Corrector of Sins has special abilities related to humanoid corpses and is pretty ungrateful to the band of baddies who have summoned it to this plane anew. Can the PCs stop both a cadre of mortal evil doers as well as a being beyond mortal comprehension? What ensues is a three way dance of chaos that players will be lucky to survive.

The adventure, as I have previously stated, is a short one. It can easily be played in a few hours or less. Most of the experience is combat related. You get a short set up of talking heads at the beginning of the piece (which I suppose could become extremely long and drawn out depending on the group makeup, but it is unlikely) followed by madcap violence as each of the three sides tries to do away with the other. Honestly I think there is more story in the backstory setup than the adventure itself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the adventure is so short and straightforward, it can definitely be used to introduce people to the LotFP rules-set. There are several plot threads left dangling at the end of the affair thanks to the amount of back story provided. This means curious PCs and enterprising GMs can probably create a few adventures from the aftermath…if anyone survives the experience, that is. The entire affair is a lot of fun and has some definite macabre comedy moments, such as what happens when if the players find the bell.

I really enjoyed this piece. It’s definitely a weird and memorable adventure and highlights the strengths of both Curtis’ writing style as well as the old school mix of cruelty and bizarreness that is LotFP. With a price tag of only two dollars, fans of either DCC or LotFP will definitely get their money’s worth out of this purchase. Again, the adventure should be playable in an hour or three depending on the troupe’s play style (Hack and slash Vs talking heads). Whether you want to play a session but don’t have enough time or are looking for something short and sweet to showcase what LotFP is all about, A Single, Small Cut is an excellent option you should strongly consider.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Single, Small Cut
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Ninth World Assassins
Publisher: Ninth Realm Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2014 08:24:18
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/14/tabletop-review-ninth-w-
orld-assassins-numenera/

I’m always a little worried with licensed third party releases on the tabletop market. Some companies tend to have really good product control of third party releases, like Chaosium. Others tend to let anything and everyone put something out for their line, ensuring that the brand is diluted thanks to having one high quality third party release for every dozen or so terrible ones. I’m looking at you WotC/Paizo. So when Monte Cooke Games announced a OGL for Numenera, I was worried that we’d see a score of third parties releases turning the game into a hack and slash dungeon crawl type thing. You know, the exact opposite of what Numenera was meant to be. I’ve managed to avoid Numenera third party releases up until now, mainly because I haven’t been sent any to review. Knowledge of the Ninth contacted me a few weeks back and asked me to look at their latest Numenera release – Ninth World Assassins. I’ll admit I was torn. On one hand, I love assassins. I play Shadowrun pretty regularly so I’m used to adventures and characters specializing in wetworks. Plus my first ever characters for 1e and 3e D&D were assassins, so I have a special place for them in my heart. On the other hand, I was worried this would be a short supplement filled with bad Assassins’ Creed or Hitman homages and page upon page of nothing but lists of weapons, poisons, and combat maneuvers, In other words my worst fear for the Numenera OGL. Is that what I got? Let’s find out.

First of all, you get a ton of content with Ninth World Assassins Generally Numenera releases are pretty short affairs. Look at Love and Sex in the Ninth World. It’s thirteen pages long. Taking the Narrative? Seven pages. In Strange Aeons? Twelve. You get the picture. Ninth World Assassins however clocks in at a whopping 103 pages, making this the third longest release for Numenera yet! You’re getting three versions of the PDF as well – one high resolution and two low resolution. Now, don’t be fooled as one of the low res PDFS clocks in at over 22 MB! If you’re going to read this on an e-reader, you’ll want the one that is “only” 13.3 MB. These are some pretty big PDFs size wise, especially compared to a lot of third party releases (and even some first party releases), so expect to encounter some loading time issues on weaker computers and/or devices. The reasons for the PDF being so huge are pretty obvious once you open one. They’re in full colour, they use a HUGE font size (especially compared to first party Numenera releases), the formatting is a bit wonky and the layering on the PDF is not very good. With the latter, the background image is causing most of the problems on weaker devices as it’s so huge. That coupled with the layering will make even a top notch computer have an issue with the PDF for a few seconds. Someone more experienced with InDesign or Pagemaker could have prevented these issues, but honestly, these are minor problems. Since this is a digital only release, the PDF can be corrected and re-uploaded. If there is ever a PoD version, well it certainly won’t having loading issues. Anyway, Ninth World Assassins is definitely a great deal in terms of the page count to money ratio, but be warned going in this thing is very unaesthetically pleasing in terms of layout, font, formatting, PDF structure and other little things that make it very apparent this release is on the lower end of production values for third party releases (as compared to say, The Island of Ignorance which had better production values than some of the first party releases for which is was made!).

Production values are a minor thing at the end of the day though. You can always get better (or hire better people) on the technical end of things. Maybe if this was a video game it would be a bigger deal, but this is tabletop gaming where CONTENT is king. I’m happy to say that not only does Ninth World Assassins have a metric ton of content, most of it is quite good and there are some wonderful ideas in this piece, which breaks itself into eight chapters, one of which (Chapter Two) is included in the core PDF but also as two separate smaller PDFs focusing on Descriptors and Foci. So technically you’re getting five PDFs for five bucks. That just sweetens the deal.

Chapter One is “Introductions” which gives you an overview of what an assassin is and why there is a need for them. You are given a wide range of potential character options including why the character is an assassin, how they got started, their thoughts on killing and how they take on clients. These are all nice things to look at, especially for less experienced gamers who aren’t sure how to create a compelling backstory for their PC or for younger gamers who think an assassin just wanders out stabbing everyone they see. There is also a wonderful look at the steps involved with the planning and execution of a hit. It’s only three pages long (In this giant font) but it hits all the bases one needs to think about. In many ways, it reads like a primer for any game big on heists, be it Shadowrun or Leverage. The only real thing I didn’t like about Chapter One was that it included (ugh) mechanics for determining how much the Assassin charges. This is needless crunch in my opinion. Never include rules for roll-playing when the action could/should be determined through straight up role-playing. I guess if you REALLY want to include mechanics for everything, have the core price be determined through role-playing and let someone whose dice are getting antsy roll after the fact for small incremental increases in pay.

Chapter Two is “Character Options” and it’s here where we get a lot of the material for character creation. There are ten new Descriptors, some of which are really well balanced, and other which are not. It’s a bit of a crap shoot. Others have some odd aspects. Blind, for example, makes you Trained in Philosophy, which makes no sense to me. It’s otherwise well balanced between positive and negatives. Some of the Descriptors like Brave and Chivalrous need tweaking as they are too powerful and unbalanced. Others like Daring and Cautious are extremely well done and I would definitely allow in my Numenera game. Overall, the good outweighs the bad with the Descriptors but we do see some evidence of power creep (albeit probably unintended) with a few of these.

There are also five new Foci in Chapter Two, all of which have applications beyond (or indeed, instead of) murdering things. “Conducts Covert Affairs” lets a character be more of a spy or work for an intelligence gathering agency. There is no shortage of guilds or societies in the Ninth World. This foci is more about giving you some nice NPC aides and contacts, but the character also gets things like a sleeper hold and the ability to be silent in combat. You know, just in case. “Crafts Powerful Poison” is a pretty cut and dry option. These poisons just aren’t damage dealing though. You have sleep and blindness poisons at Tier 3 for example. I really liked this, especially the concept of the Poison Pool (A great job of light mechanics that enforces role-playing). “Dances in Shadow” is basically the old Shadowdancer prestige class from D&D 3e or the Lasombra from V:TM. “Studies Anatomy” is by far my favorite option as it is the most versatile of the five and it can really open up Numenera to a lot of options like playing a doctor, serial killer, forensic scientist or even couple with Nano necromancer! It’s well balanced between offensive and defensive/supportive Tiers and I could see this becoming the defector “cleric” option for Numenera. Finally we have “Steals Faces” which allows a character ever increasing doppleganger abilities. It’s not necessarily unbalanced, but I can definitely see a player really abusing this if their GM isn’t up to snuff. Overall, all five Foci are quite well done, and this might just be the highlight of the book.

Chapter Three is “Tools of the Trade.” As you can imagine this chapter is all about various gear a PC can find, acquire, or already have in their possession. The Chapter breaks down into Equipment, Poisons and Traps. Equipment is actually special exotic stuff rather than standard gear. You have everything from an alien doll (good for distractions) to an Apothecary’s Kit. There are also items that can be used to create or enhance traps, even if that isn’t the first use players (or their characters) might have for them. There’s some very creative stuff here. Poisons makes up the bulk of this section though with nearly twenty pages devoted to the concept! This could have been a supplement in and of itself to be honest. It makes sense though as Ninth World Assassins was conceived of due to the author’s original confusion and issues with poisons as portrayed in the core Numenera rulebook. This area really is a top notch affair with an in-depth guide to making poisons, lists of ways a poison can be delivered (touch, injection, swallowing, airborne, etc) and so much more. You also get a list of twenty “mundane” poisons along with their effects followed by another list of twenty “Cipher” poisons. Mundane poisons are more common ones that players will find or perhaps learn to concoct themselves while cipher poisons are well, ciphers. Things they will find and not really know what they are until they ingest them or make someone else do it.

Finally, Chapter Three gives you a list of ten traps. Traps aren’t something Numenera has really covered, which means an enterprising person could make a supplement just for this concept. Personally, I’ve been using the Grimtooth’s Traps series from Flying Buffalo games when I have need for such an option in an adventure, but they are more geared for a fantasy game. Here we have some light rules for creating your own Ninth World style trap which break down into Difficulty, Assembly and Effect. It’s very nicely done and the example traps given should hold you over if you’re not having any luck designing your own. This is followed up by sixteen cipher traps which can really surprise players, especially if they are used to only picking up positive items. Whoops, now they’re being attacked by holographic luchadores.

Chapter Four is entitled “Numenera” and you know what to expect here. There are ten interesting artifacts that are geared for rogues, assassins and spies. Things like sonic dampeners, thermal projectors (to hide a specific heat signature(s)), a Ninth World version of the classic web spell and more. You also get a d100 table of oddities. This chapter is fairly short but it’s always fun to look at new devices for the Ninth World. The oddities are a bit too mundane/unimaginative for my liking, but you can’t win them all.

Chapter Five is “XP Options,” and it simply gives you new ways to spend those hard earned XP instead of just Tier climbing. Some of them like “Join Guild” and “Guild Advancement” are better off as things that are roleplayed rather than purchased for a character and it disappointed me greatly to see those as the first two options. Joining a guild should be a story in and of itself, perhaps a slow buring suplot that takes place over an adventure or three. It should be something you go, “Oh, I have these experience. By the way, I’m in Guild XYZ.” That’s not how these options were intended by the author, but unfortunately it IS how a lot of gamers will use them. This is something to definitely watch and again, if it can be achieved through role-playing alone, it shouldn’t have the option as something to directly purchase for the character. This is also true of the “Home-Base Enhancements.” This is something characters should use currency or trade on, rather than XP. The “In-Game Application” choices are better thought out as they include things like Poison Resistance and Convenient Pocket, but it still includes things that should be earned through roleplaying rather than via XP expenditures like Informant and Safehouse. Player Intrusion gets nearly an entire page of descriptive text and I’m torn on the concept. It’s not something Numenera needs, as you already have counters to GM Intrusion and in the way it is written, it’s definitely something players can abuse, especially if they are of the mindset that a RPG is something to be “won” rather than experienced. The concept of players pooling together 3XP to create a positive (or less than negative) effect occur is definitely an intriguing and interesting one, but it really needed to be defined better than the nebulous bits show here. This is an idea better left to Monte Cook Games than for a third party to try and develop because well, this is exactly what happens. A paragraph and two examples simply isn’t enough to properly flesh out and/or balance the concept to what it should be. In the form it is in here, it’s just way too easy to derail a game.

Chapter Six is “Organizations and Guilds” and it’s pretty self-explanatory. THANKFULLY this chapter talks about earning guild membership and ranking instead of purchasing ala the previous chapter, which hopefully will be how the majority does things. We also get a list of various services guilds can provide, but they are unfortunately coupled with DLs that you have to roll on to access. This is a terrible idea because access should either be universal or by your straight-forward rank in an organization. Again, these are role-playing opportunities reduced to roll-playing opportunities, which unfortunately is a recurring flaw in Ninth World Assassins. Maybe if the Guild as an organization was rolling for something obscure or hard to get sure, but a character should be rolling against their own organization to get access to something that will benefit them both. Anyway, the rest of the chapter gives a set of seven example guilds, which are fun to read and should hopefully get your troupe’s creative juices flowing.

Our penultimate chapter is “Characters and Creatures.” This gives you some notable monsters, antagonists and NPCs to inflict upon your players. It’s an odd mix. I’m trying to figure out while someone in the Ninth World would be dressed in a set of gold plate mail ala a D&D game, but whatever. The two creatures are both creepy looking and related so you can use them in tandem. I didn’t really care for the first two NPCs as they seemed a bit generic and like they belonged in a hack and slash fantasy RPG in both art and description, but the Lightning Horror has potential. There’s not much here and it’s definitely one of the weaker chapters in the book.

Finally we have our last chapter which is three pages of adventures seeds. These are what they are, and it really depends on the GM using one (or more) of these to determine the quality of the ideas. After all, a good GM can make anything work while a less experienced one pretty much needs their hand held.

So overall, I’m pleased with Ninth World Assassins. It definitely has its flaws such as a recurring desire to stick in mechanics where they aren’t needed and the production team could really use a refresher on how to make a PDF smoother as well as aesthetically pleasing, no release for anything game is without its issues or things that you can justifiably gripe about. The key thing is that the good definitely outweighs the bad in this piece as it gives you a ton of fun new fleshed out ideas for your Numenera campaign. The fact this is so reasonably priced at only five dollars means you’re getting a real bargain if you pick this up. If Ninth World Assassins is an example of what we can expect to see from the Numenera version of the OGL, then then I think Numenera is going to be in fine shape. Let’s just hope this is the standard and not the exception.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ninth World Assassins
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Alex, Thanks for pointing out the file loading due to the background image. I just re-uploaded the three files with low-quality background image, also total file sizes are respectively smaller. To also clear up immediate viewing, I set the base view at 75% zoom, the book is written in a 6x9 page space, so having it show up at full-page-view does make the text look enormous. \"Holographic Luchadores,\" I couldn\'t stop laughing after I read this. ;) For the XP Options I see your point about making them more roleplay related than player options. There were two directions with these XP options, (1) to give players more options to use their xp in-game, and (2) giving GMs alternatives to XP as a reward (and giving them xp-equivalent rewards). This was directed to slow player advancement and grant additional options for players who want to continue growing once they hit Tier 6. Guild Mechanics was a tricky business as well, and whether to give a DL range on services I was conlflicted about. I aired on the safer side and gave DL ranges, to give the GM a better idea of the complexity and integrating the advancement mechanic. Joining and Advancement was intended to be more of a GM reward to a player, rather than a free player option, this was also true with advancement. This could have been iterated in the book, but as you had said, as you would prefer to handle things by role-playing and through the story, you can remove the DLs and make it more immersive for your players. I\'m glad you were overall impressed with the book, and I hope to continue raising the bar of Numenera supplements! I look forward to your next review of my products! Thank you for your honest feedback Andreas
Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper's Guide
Publisher: Modiphius
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/08/2014 06:44:58
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/08/tabletop-review-achtung-
-cthulhu-keepers-guide-to-the-secret-war-call-of-cthulhu-sav-
age-worlds/

I reviewed Achtung! Cthulhu’s Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War last month but had a number of things set me back from getting to my review of the Keeper’s Guide, which functions as the Dungeon or Game Masters’s Guide for the game using either Call of Cthulhu rules mods or Savage Worlds mods, most of which, aside from character creation, are contained here in the Keeper’s Guide. Both of these books started life on Kickstarter, and I’ve loved the end results that they’ve produced. Where the Investigator’s Guide offered up a nice supplement for playing a soldier with some unique investigative charges, going so far as to convince me that you could play it as a straight World War II RPG, the Keeper’s Guide unleashes the little tidbits lurking in the dark corners and provides the game master with all the tools to let the Old Ones and the cult side of the Nazi war machine which is great because if you can keep your player’s out of the Keeper’s Guide, they’ll have no idea what’s coming their way. Let’s take a look.

The layout scheme from the Investigator’s Guide continues, looking like a series of case files strung out over someone’s desk or put up on a corkboard with notes and photographs taped in for emphasis. It gives the book layout a distinct period feel that adds to the atmosphere of the game and keeps the book readable as well which is important when you’re using it as entertainment and a rulebook. The titles are set up to look like they were punched onto the page by a type-writer but they opted to give the main text you read a far more readable font, thankfully. When you are presented with a table or stat block, it’s done up like it was formatted on a large index card and hastily taped into place but is still legible. Both this and the Investigator’s Guide would be amazing to have as print copies when I stop to think about them in my hands I’m actually disappointed I only have access to the PDFs for review. If you thought the Investigator’s Guide only having 4 pages of ads, you’ll love the Keeper’s Guide only having 3.5 pages of ads and subtracting those, plus the covers, the splash pages, and a thanks to the backers of the game, you’re looking at 283 pages of content for your use. That’s impressive.

As I mentioned, Achtung! Cthulhu is set up to work with two different rule systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. The bulk of the time you’ll see rules for each of these game systems printed side by side with each other with color coded names to better tell which rules go with which system, but like the Investigator’s Guide, sometimes it’s just easier to delve into a chapter on specific rule changes for each system, but while the Investigator’s Guide split this off into 4 chapters, 2 for each system, the Keeper’s Guide keeps this number down to just one chapter per system, each one aptly titled and marked based off the rules it’s written for. Both of these chapters are very similar in content with various tweaks for each, so I recommend looking each over even if you’re just running one of the systems, but you don’t have to know each to run. There will be later chapters that offer more for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, but that’s more because some of the spells, effects and monsters are already covered in the core book for Call of Cthulhu and aren’t in Savage Worlds. There is new material for Call of Cthulhu in these mixed chapters, it’s just not as thick as Savage Worlds.

Chapter 1, From the Shadows, is a 12 page chronology of events that sparked World War II as well as the Secret War going back to 1907. While a good chunk of this time was covered in the Investigator’s Guide, this timeline deals with different events and details different people than was covered before so it’s not simply a retread of material you’ve already received if you have the Investigator’s Guide. It’s a pretty decent way to mine for more story ideas as well as being something your players haven’t seen yet unless they’re familiar with World War II history and even then there are things mentioned that I only know because of various documentaries I’ve watched over the years. Chapter 2, Inside the Reich, is another 7 page chronology, much like they revisited the idea in the Investigator’s Guide, but this is tailored more to events directly dealing with Germany. The other thing I find interesting in this chapter are short messages about how to run the Germans during the war and the fact that what they’re doing and actions they took are theirs alone and that the Mythos would have come to them because of it and not that the Mythos drove them to do those things. It helps avoid a slippery slope, I think, and keeps things going along the lines of what Lovecraft envisioned for his creation and makes it all the worse because of it. Chapter 3, Might Makes Right?, weighs in at 27 pages and covers a variety of topics, mainly the German forces and their make-up as well as structure. Later in goes into providing some example soldiers for the Allies and Germany as well. They cover a lot in there and do it pretty well.

Chaper 4, The Other Secret War, delves into the Intelligence forces active during World War II. Covering all the agencies active with an emphasis more on the Brits than the U.S., French or Germans, at 11 pages this is more of a summary but is still pretty decent and well laid out information on each. If any of your players heads that route or you need to use them, most of what you’d need as far as structure and who does what is covered in here. At 51 pages, Chapter 5 Secret and Occult Societies, is easily the meatiest chapter in the book covering a lot of what you’ll need to run the game depending on your setting and what you’re trying to do. The big things covered here are the Occult heavy hitters working for Germany, the Night Wolf and the Black Sun. One is a spin-off from the other and while they’re both working for Germany, they have very different methods and outlooks on how and what they’re trying to accomplish. While those two get a big spotlight, other groups are also covered so you can have them working against your group in America, France or Britain just as easily within their own soil or even groups designed to stop whatever is coming.

Chapter 6, Planes, Trains and Things That Go Bang, is another hefty 48 page chapter that serves as your equipment and weapons chapter. This covers gear, vehicles, and weapons that you average Investigator wouldn’t necessarily have access to on their own, but might acquire through killing an enemy or during a mission, or might just get as the key to getting through a mission alive. Not every piece of equipment in here is standard to World War II and there are definitely some interesting toys to use on your palyers here. Chapter 7, Into the Fray, is the first of the two chapters detailing specific rules for one of the two game systems. This 11 page chapter is all new rules and updates for Call of Cthulhu, including aerial and naval combat and a few other useful bits just for running in this time period. Chapter 8, Rules of Savage Engagement, is 12 pages covering aerial combat and cover for Savage Worlds, but instead of navel combat it instead covers Sanity and all the wonderful ways you might lost it being exposed to the Mythos.

Chapter 9, Artefacts and Tomes, is the first of three chapters that start to lean into more information for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu. While there is some new information here for both games, some ground that Call of Cthulhu covers is re-tread here over the 8 pages so you can use this with Savage Worlds as well. This chapter covers items that are tied directly to the Mythos that can have certain benefits and definite drawbacks for the players, especially if they’re not the first to find them. Chapter 10, Deadly Illusions and Cursed Knowledge, clocks in at 23 pages, only 3 of which contain new material for Call of Cthulhu. This part of the book delves into magic and spells specifc to the Mythos so you can see where the bulk of it may have already been covered by the Cthulhu core book. To avoid being completely useless for Cthulhu in this chapter they’ve added some new spells and effects however and some would be interesting to see outside of Achtung! Cthulhu in a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Chapter 11, Horrors and Monstrosities, serves as a kind of Bestiary for both games and is the last really lopsided chapter. At 28 pages, only 12 of these are for both games and feature things you haven’t seen before if you’ve played Call of Cthulhu. It goes through the Gods of the Mythos for the Savage Worlds players as well as some of the typical critters that serve before diving into the new creations that have shown up in World War II and not all of them are tied to Nazi creation.

Once you’re out of the monsters, they move onto the human element in Chapter 12, Allies and Nemeses, which covers the big important people like Hoover all the way down to the Man on the Street. There are a lot of examples of NPCs to run into as well as example locations and who you might find there. At only 20 pages this feels a little brief, but there’s enough variety here and between the other chapters that you shouldn’t have a problem assembling enough NPCs to fill out a campaign without much effort. Chapter 13, Adventure Seeds, is woefully short at only 6 pages and is actually the one chapter I wished could have been filled out more. You do get ten adventure ideas, so that’s great, but I would have liked to have seen more. Yes there are some more books incoming, and yes I have all I’d need here to make my own campaign between the two books, but when they go through the trouble to provide these hooks, I always want more to mess around with. Chapter 14, Quick Play Guide, is great if you’re already familiar with Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds, otherwise the list of page numbers and summaries of the new rules from this book are going to not really help you start quickly. It feels like 6 pages of fluff and I wasn’t too thrilled with the Quick Start Guide in the Investigator’s Guide either. Chapter 15, Suggested Resources, has a few more listed for each section than the Investigator’s Guide did but not enough that I don’t think they couldn’t have just pointed to the other book and said go here. After that is the backer’s thank you list, the index, a few ads and a different map of Europe than the one the players get.

Much like the Investigator’s Guide, I’m a bit over-whelmed with how much they’ve crammed into this set of books and not made it feel over-whelming at all. It’s organized pretty well and they’ve broken up the different sections so that it’s easier to locate the different information you might need. There’s much more here on the Secret War end of things than in the Investigator’s Guide and they’ve managed to not make it feel like a re-hashed book and more something that works in concert with the other book to make a whole expansion to either Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds. The artwork and photos they picked look great and the placement and feel really sold each of these for me on top of the content. I did enjoy reading the Investigator’s Guide more than the Keeper’s Guide, but they’re both extremely well done. While the book is weighted a little more on content for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, there’s definitely material here enough for both games to warrant the price and it’s a new setting with a great twist for both and definitely something you should be picking up if you’re looking for something with a different kind of horror vibe to it. The bundle for both books is more than reasonably priced if you’re getting the PDF version as well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper's Guide
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Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts
Publisher: Moebius Adventures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2014 06:25:00
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/06/tabletop-review-the-big-
-book-of-little-spaces-haunts/

This nineteen page PDF is a collection of six previous Little Spaces releases that have come out intermittently over the last year or so. All six (Abandonded Places, Creepy Copses, Ghostly Effects, Gruesome Graves, Horrid Hallways and Scary Basements) shared the same horror theme, so Moebius Adventures decided to bundle the collection into one supplement. Each PDF in the Haunts series sell for a dollar each, so you’re saving two dollars by buying the collection, and you only have a single PDF to manage as well.

So what is The Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts? Well it’s a collection of system neutral random charts. Now, these charts aren’t for random encounters or loot, but rather they are to help the Storyteller/GM/Whatever get their imagination churning, and thus provide better descriptions, moods and overall ambiance for his or her gamers. You essentially have three charts. The first one you roll a d8 for and it gives you a Sense. The second chart has you roll a d20 and you get a Descriptive Element. The third chart has you roll a d100 on the specific sense chart you rolled for with the d8, giving you a specific sense descriptor. After getting your three random bits, the DM using Little Spaces should be able to put the three pieces together to create a creepy piece of background text for their adventure. Does it work? Let’s try it together with a Scary Basment.

First I roll my d8. I roll a 5 which, according to the chart, is “Taste.” On the second chart I roll a d20. I get a 6, which correlates to “Kitch.” Finally, I roll a d100 on the Taste chart. I get a 21, which is “Burnt.” This means I have to put all three together into a narrative that will help my game. Of course, kitch are usually cheesy knick-knacks, so it’s hard to imagine when you would taste one, but let’s see what we can do.

You slowly descend into the burned out cellar. Like the rest of the amusement park, you appear to be the only human visitors in some time. As you wade through the spider-web that seem to saturate the room, you can’t help but notice the taste of smoke and charred wood tickling the back of your tongue, as if the disaster that befell Funland happened only recently. You know this to be a trick of the mind, and that the taste is probably just the amount of ashes and dust that proliferate the basement, but you can’t help but wonder what it is about this place that seems even creepier than the rest of the park. Perhaps it’s the scores of scorched midway prizes lining the far wall. Their melted eyes staring at you. Their scalded plastic and fur ensuring they will never have a home or a moment where a young child regards them with love or fondness.

So yeah, The Big Book of Little Spaces works, more or less. Of course, I’ve been playing RPGs since I was in first grade, and I’ve been writing for the Industry since I was in high school, so while that took me thirty to sixty second to write, it might not be that easy for other people. Veteran gamers are probably set in their ways and thus either don’t need help doing descriptions for their adventures or they don’t bother with descriptions since they run hack and slash affairs that are nothing but dice rolling, and thus while they NEED something like this, they also don’t realize said need. New GMs will probably get the most use out of this, as The Big Book of Little Spaces is more a creative writing tool than anything else. Even then, the possibility arises for a set of rolls you simply can’t work with.

While I can’t necessarily say that The Big Book of Little Spaces will ever find a large audience or be that helpful to many a GM, it is worth noting it might have missed its calling as a beer and pretzels style game where each player rolls on the charts and has to come up with a short scenario featuring their rolls with only a minute of prep time. If you can’t pull it off, you’re out. Keep going until only one player remains.

I like the idea of The Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts, as it was fun to flip through and was well written, but I can’t say it’s something I’d ever make regular use out of. Nor can I think of people that really can use this other than neophyte gamers. It’s an interesting piece, and the potential for fun is there. It’s just trying to figure out who to recommend such a PDF to is the hard part.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for this great review! And yes, there is always the possibility for rolls you can\'t work with, though for me that always serves as more of a challenge than a road block. It\'s part of the fun of getting a collection of random items together and figuring out how they go together. :) Glad you liked the product overall. And the idea of a beer & pretzels game utilizing this approach might be worth exploring!
Adventurers Compendium
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2014 06:20:20
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/06/tabletop-review-tunnels-
-trolls-adventurers-compendium/


Although the deluxe version of Tunnels and Trolls is nearly a year late (for very understandable reasons), Flying Buffalo Games has done a great job of putting out the Kickstarter backer stretch goals like clockwork. So far, we have gotten remakes/reprints of Deluxe City of Terrors, Saving Fang From the Pits of Morgul, Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeons, The Complete Dungeon of the Bear and of course, the Quick Start Rules for DT&T that went out last Free RPG Day. So although the core product has been delayed due to illness and other issues, Kickstarter backers have definitely gotten their money’s worth and then some. Even better, none of these re-releases have been Kickstarter exclusives, so if you are a T&T fan, but you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pick these up… but you do have to pay.

The latest release from the Kickstarter is the Adventurers’ Compendium, which collects old adventures from the long defunct Sorcerer’s Apprentice Magazine. Now, I was born in 1977, and by the time I was learning to game, SA had been gone for a few years. I discovered Tunnels & Trolls later in life and loved the solo adventurers that were put out for the game, because it was a lot like the Lone Wolf or D&D solo books that I loved in elementary school. So for me, all of these adventures were brand new. Now, a few adventures come from other sources, like Pocket Adventurers, but the majority are rare and long out of print adventures that were originally published in magazine form. You’ll find ten solo adventures and three adventures for a party. Now the back cover only says nine solo adventures, but as you’ll see below, there are ten. Hey, you’re getting more content than you expected, right?

The layout for the Adventurers’ Compendium is a bit odd. You have the first nine solo adventures, all complete with “Choose Your Own Adventure” format up front. There is also an introduction to the tenth adventure, Circle of Ice. Then you have all the content for the first nine adventures. Then you have the beginning of the tenth solo adventure all by itself (which at first seems to be a second adventure by the same name, which is VERY confusing), and then you have the three GM/Party based adventures. This gives the book a strange feel when you just flip through it to peruse the contents. I think Adventurers’ Compendium would have flowed better with the GM adventures up front and the solos in the back, but then the primary appeal of the release is the solo adventures, so it makes sense to some degree that they are front and center.

I should also point out that the first nine solo adventurers are not separated out. Instead, you get the first page of each of the nine adventures in a row, and then all the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of formatting has the contents of the adventures lumped into one big mass. I’m not sure why they did that for the first nine but not the tenth, as it adds to the strange formatting feel of the piece. You might completely miss the second Circle of Ice intro due to the layout if you aren’t careful. While the lumping all of the adventure content together in bulk form may sound strange in this review, it works really well when you actually play the adventures. Because each solo adventure is so short, it would be easy to see all the content and “cheat” your way to a successful completion. With everything mixed together it’s harder to do that, and come on, everyone who has ever played one of these types of adventures has done so at some point. So you may have to wrap your head around the fact each adventure isn’t segregated out, but once you get over it, you’ll find the adventures play better for it, even if reading the collection is harder with this layout.

So let’s take a quick look at each of the solo pieces.

•Kingwalker. This is an adventure for a 1st to 3rd level character where they complete a series of trials. Originally published in SA#1.


•Seven Ayes. This adventure is for a 1st to 3rd level non-magic using humanoid. The adventure can determine what your character is if you don’t have one already, and it is best to go that route. The choices are Dwarf, soft-hearted Orc or evil Human bandit. The adventure is pretty much a bar brawl. Originally published in SA#2.


•Golden Dust, Red Death. This adventure is for a 1st to 3rd level character. Most spells and missile weapons are not allowed, so a fighter might be the best choice for it. Here you are a skeezy drug smuggler. Originally published in SA #4.


•A Sworded Adventure. This adventure is only for a sword wielding warrior of 4th level of higher, so it’s a toughie. It can also lead to adventures NOT in this collection, so be warned. While I found Naked Doom on DriveThruRPG.com, I had no such luck finding Arena of Khazan. As such, this might be the hardest adventure to play through as originally intended, but the text does give a slight workaround. The adventure is basically about your character going shopping at a bazaar and the weirdness that befalls them. Originally published in SA#5.


•Stop Thief! This adventure is for non-magic using characters of 6th Level or less. Your character is hired to stop a group of thieves from their regular looting of the docks. Originally published in SA #7.


•Thief For Hire. This adventure is designed for rogues or warriors between Levels 1 and 4. Your character is offered 1,000 gold pieces to steal a scroll from the royal library. It sounds simple, but it definitely isn’t. Originally published in SA#12.



•The Legend of the _____(adj) _____(n). This is a comedy solo adventure where your friends help out beforehand by filling in the various blanks with the adventure Mad Lib style. Class and levels aren’t important. It’s simply meant to be a very silly adventure with a very silly trial at the center of it.


•First Command. This adventure is for a humanoid character between Levels 2 and 10. You are put in charge of your own ship (complete with a slave galley), and your mission is to sail south to pick up a tribute for your Empress. Originally published in SA#15.


•Hot Pursuit. This adventure has no class or race restrictions. You are hired by the captain of the city guard to ferret out spies from an organization known as The Rangers that have infiltrated the city.


•Circle of Ice. This adventure is for characters of any class between Levels 1 and 4. As mentioned earlier, you are given an intro page on Page 18, similar to the first nine solo adventures. Then you have all the choose your own text for the adventures except this one, and finally on page 58 (61 in the PDF), you get another, DIFFERENT intro to Circle of Ice, and then the text for playing it. It’s all very oddly done. It’s a fun adventure, just like the rest of them, though.


So that’s it for the solo adventures. Now we have the three GM based adventures designed for an entire party.

•SeaReaver’s Tomb. This adventure is for a party of middle to high level characters on a general tomb robbing expedition. The adventure relies more on wits and puzzle solving than straight forward hack and slash though. It’s a fun little dungeon that can kill characters in a lot of ways. Originally published in SA#3.


•The Tomb of Axton. This adventure is for seven characters, with each player controlling two or three of them. I don’t see why you couldn’t do the adventure with more players controlling less PCs though. This is another dungeon crawl where you rob a grave of a long dead guy for profit and glory. It’s a small dungeon, only fourteen rooms long, but each one takes a while to get through. In some ways it is very similar in style, theme and climax to SeaReaver’s Tomb. Originally published in Sorcerer’s Apprentice #9/10 (it’s what the text says).


•The Black Dragon Tavern. This adventure is for characters below Level 9. It’s not a normal adventure, being more a collection of encounters characters may or may not take part in, depending on their actions. There are NPCs to meet, games to partake in and things to eat. It’s not an adventure in the way most people think of them. Rather, it is a regular place for characters to meet and story seeds to be planted. Originally published in SA#11.

So there you go – fourteen long out of print adventures for only five bucks! That’s an excellent deal no matter how you look at it. Adventurers’ Compendium also includes a Sorcerer’s Apprentice cover guide, a random treasure generator, a few puzzles and more. Long time T&T fans who remember the SA magazine will no doubt love this collection. Younger gamers or those new to T&T will be impressed by the fact you are getting so many adventurers for such a low price, not to mention getting all these old, out of print pieces without spending time and a lot of money tracking them down on the secondary market. Adventurer’s Compendium is a must have for any T&T fan. It’s that good.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventurers Compendium
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Shadowrun: Missions: Critic's Choice (5A-02)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2014 06:20:41
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/05/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-missions-5a-02-critics-choice/

Feetal’s Gizz! Has it really been seven full months between Chasin’ the Wind and the next installment of this season’s Shadowrun Missions? It sure has, but worry not, for it has been worth the wait! As you might recall, this season of Shadowrun Missions is taking place in Chicago. Chi-Town. The Windy-City. BUG CITY. That’s right, you’re smack dab in one of the creepiest locations in the Sixth World for the long haul chummers, so get strapped in and let your paranoia run wild because, when it doubt, it’s probably being possessed, manipulated or controlled by Insect Spirits.

Shadowrun Missions are by far my favorite line of adventures currently being published, and Critic’s Choice is a perfect example of way. The adventures are designed to be played in one or two sessions (generally a four hour block, which is perfect for tournaments at conventions). The format these adventures are laid out in are organized in such a fashion that even a neophyte GM can run one of these with little to no problem. Everything you need, from enemy stats to specific die rolls needed, are listed in each scene. Veterans GMs will also find ways to tweak the difficulty and possibly save the runners if they get in over their heads. I should also mention each Mission is (usually) in full colour, and with a price tag of only $5.95, you’re getting an incredible deal. Why Shadowrun fans don’t pick up each and every one of these whenever they are released is beyond me. You can play each one as a one shot, or you can string the set together as one drawn out campaign. Of course, with the gaps of time between adventures, you should probably wait until the season is complete before going that route.

There’s so much to love about Critic’s Choice. It introduces a fun cast of characters for your players to interact with – many of which will no doubt be showing up in later adventures this season. You have a rat shaman gang leader, an up and coming fixer, an ugly elven pit fighter, a kind hearted street doc who might actually be as benevolent as he seems, and a collection of lunatics who live, breathe and cosplay the vidtrid Neil the Orc Barbarian in overzealous fashion. It’ll be interesting to see which of these turns out to working for the Bugs (ALL OF THEM! ALL OF THEM I TELL YOU!).

The adventure is a pretty unique one as far as Shadowrun affairs go. First, you’re actually clearly wearing the white hat with this run. Your mission is to extract some documents from a long abandoned building so a doctor can claim it as his. Once it is, he can turn it into a new clinic which is closer to the containment zone and can thus help a lot of people in need, especially those living next to a Ghoul warren. There’s also a scene where you can optionally take down a gang who accosts and murders people to feed to ghouls. Yes, lots of ghoul references in this one. Of course, the mission isn’t a cakewalk. Once you get to the building in question, you’ll find it is currently being squatted in by a group of people who mean no harm and, aside from being obviously insane, are just trying to get by in one of the most horrible places on Earth. Is there a way the squatters and the doc can both get what they want/need from this situation? Definitely – as long as your team isn’t the type to shoot first and second. I absolutely loved that you can get through Critic’s Choice without a single shot being fired or blade having to be pulled. Although it’s not likely, this adventure can be 100% combat free. I’ve been playing Shadowrun since the first edition FASA days, and I honestly think this is the first adventure that allows for this. That’s pretty cool. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t planned combat scenes in Critic’s Choice – just that you can avoid them. Most of the combat is pretty straightforward though, and shouldn’t give the PCs much of a challenge. Don’t worry though, this is just the second adventure of the season after all. By the time the PCs are done, they and their players should feel good about themselves and the work they have done for Chicago. It’s rare you get a run that isn’t super murky ethics and morality-wise, but I’m sure down the road we’ll see that the clinic you helped will be implanted bug spirits or be a Technomancer abattoir or something. It’s the Sixth World after all.

Overall, I really loved Critic’s Choice. I thoroughly enjoyed that the setup and each of the eight scenes that comprised this adventure included a reference to a line or song title from the musical Chicago. I loved how unique this adventure was in terms of setup and follow through. I really felt this would make a wonderful first adventure for people to learn Shadowrun with, be they new to the system or gaming as a whole. The scenes are short, and each provides a good cut-off point if you can’t finish the piece in a single session. The dice roll needs are on the low end. Combat is short and sweet, and much of the adventure is talking rather than shooting. All of these things should really help a newcomer learn Shadowrun, Fifth Edition quite nicely. Shadowrun is a pretty mechanics heavy system in the first place, and some other adventures might overwhelm or intimidate a less experienced gamer. So out of everything available for 5e so far, Critic’s Choice is definitely the best option for getting your feet wet with the Sixth World. If you don’t have the core rulebook for 5e, that shouldn’t be a problem, as you can still learn the game via this, the free Quick Start Rules and many a person willing to teach you the ropes at your local brick and mortar store, via Skype or Google Hangouts.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Critic's Choice (5A-02)
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The Mummy - A Dungeon World Playbook
Publisher: Awful Good Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2014 06:19:29
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/05/tabletop-review-the-mum-
my-a-dungeon-world-playbook/

I’ve been a big fan of Dungeon World since it started. Heck, I was even one of the original kickstarter backers. It’s a great game that deserves more mainstream attention that it is getting. Third party publishers are taking note though, with many companies releasing playbooks (character creation profiles) to allow all sort of new and crazy PCs into the game. Case in point is Awful Good Games’ latest – The Mummy. I love mummies. They’re my favorite undead. Whether it’s old Anktepot from Ravenloft to modern mummies like those found in the award-winning Mummy: The Curse, I have owned and/or reviewed it. Unfortunately, aside from TSR and White Wolf/Onyx Path releases, most mummy-related tabletop pieces are mediocre at best. Especially Pathfinder ones. That’s why I’m so happy about the sheer quality of this Dungeon World playbook. Not only is it well done, but I can actually play a mummy PC for the first time outside of the World of Darkness games. I’ll definitely be using this playbook for my next Dungeon World character – let’s see why!

The Mummy consists of two PDFs: a seventeen page playbook and a two page character sheet. The character sheet is like any you’ll find for Dungeon World. The two pages cover all the possible options for a mummy character, and you simply check off which options pertain to your PC. It’s incredibly well done, and I love seeing all the options from Levels 1-5 directly in front of you while you are playing. I do think Dungeon World has the best character sheets in gaming today, and if you haven’t viewed one, you really should. Awful Good Games hasn’t reinvented the wheel at all here. They’ve just copied the same format and plugged in their Mummy options. No complaints here.

Then we have the playbook itself. If you’ve played Dungeon World, you have a good idea what to expect. The playbook starts off with a list of six new Mummy related tags and what they mean play-wise. It then gives you a couple pages of background for the mummies and the decision making process behind the character class, which was a treat to read. I was surprised they relied on the 1999 remake of The Mummy rather than using the classic Universal black and white films or even the Hammer horror movies, but hey, it’s their playbook, right?

From there, you get a list of sample names and eleven and a half pages of character building options. Of course, some of those pages only have a paragraph on them, leaving a lot of blank space, but it is what it is. You’ll find a lot of options for physical appearance (eyes, bandages, head topping and fleshy form), three starting backgrounds and a list of your four starting abilities. I loved Soul Food because this is the first fantasy RPG that really talks about how food and beverages were left with mummies to consume in the next life. This really makes the race fit in line with Egyptian folklore and makes them a more playable PC, since they have to eat, drink and sleep like other classes/races. There are also nice twists on conventional D&D mummy tropes, like the ability to curse victims, the aura of fear and the usual mummy rot effect. After that, you pick your alignment, gear and bonds, and your character is ready to go. You should be able to have a Level 1 Mummy PC ready for play in about 15 minutes.

Advanced Moves are where things get interesting. For Levels 2 through 5, you get to pick one ability from the list of twenty options. There is a further list of four non-canon options that didn’t make the final product. Cool to see that included as a bonus. Anyway, of the Advanced Moves, my personal favorites are Dust to Dust (cloud of sand form!), Eternal Retainers (mummy NPC sidekicks!), Sand Storm (vomit a cloud of sand or vermin!), Seeker of Secrets (lifeline to the GM who reveals hidden things to your character), Wrap it Up (using your bandages as constricting or grappling tendrils) and Organ Donor (steal organs from living beings for free health boosts!). All the Mummy options are pretty fantastic, though, and as I have said, I’ll definitely be making a character with this playbook.

After the Advanced Moves, you are given a list of new gear and magic items for a Mummy, and that’s that! It’s pretty to the point with this playbook, and I loved it. It’s by far my favorite third party Dungeon World playbook so far, and if you’re a fan of the system, this is $2.50 well spent!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mummy - A Dungeon World Playbook
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Dead Light
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2014 11:34:42
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/27/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-dead-light/

On Monday, December the 23rd, Chaosium decided to surprise all of its Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition backers with a special gift – the release of Dead Light. Even better, this first stand alone adventure for CoC 7e was made free to all 3,668 backers. Of course if you didn’t back Seventh Edition via Kickstarter (and WHY NOT?), the adventure is available for purchase with the very reasonable price tag of $6.95. This way, everyone’s a winner!

Now as Dead Light is for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a second! Seventh Edition isn’t out yet.” You’re right, but worry not my friends. In the back of the book is a conversion guide to let you use Dead Light with older versions of the game. If you really want to play this adventure with Seventh Edition rules, you can always use the Quick Start Rules Chaosium has provided. Man, between this, the QSR, the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake (I have proofs in hand and expect a preview of that content coming soon!) and Secrets of Tibet, CoC 7e might be setting a record for the most content produced before the actual core rule book is released.

Dead Light is an adventure for two to five players and it’s set in the 1920s right outside Arkham. The adventure is meant to be a one-shot or stand-alone experience and it’s unusual in that, unlike most published CoC adventures where the dice tend to have the last say regarding combat, death and the like, the Keeper has almost complete control over who dies, how they die and when in this scenario. This means in the hands of a bad Keeper, say one who views the game as Investigators Vs. Keepers, this can be a bit of a disaster. In the hands of most Keepers, who tend to view the game as a collective storytelling experience with their friends, Dead Light can be an extremely satisfying experience because the Keeper can (and probably should) show mercy at times. Instead of having the character die in an accidental fashion or due to a bad roll, the GM can save that death for a more interesting and/or dramatic moment. In some ways, the control the GM has over life and death in this adventure reminds me of “Wrong Turn” in Cthulhu Britannica, in that the Keeper can (and will) predetermine the death of characters, thus making Dead Light more like an interactive film (or “on rails” if you are up to date with your video game vernacular) than your normal tabletop experience. This doesn’t mean the adventure is out of the players’ hands. If a player comes up with a really good idea for getting out of a situation, the Keeper should definitely reward that with a stay of execution. After all, Dead Light is more about thinking and decision-making than dice rolling and the person running this adventure needs to keep that in mind even if they really feel Character X’s death would be absolutely perfect at that moment.

I should also point out that due to the nature of how this adventure is designed to be run, Dead Light is a great way to bring newcomers into Call of Cthulhu, especially 7e. This way players can learn the mechanics and flow of a Call of Cthulhu experience without dying right away. Nothing’s worse than bringing a person into their first tabletop experience ever and having them die thirty minutes into the game and then just have them sit around watching other people play. With Dead Light, you can really teach a newcomer the basics and mechanics of CoC and keep them alive just long enough to get addicted to the game. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even make it through the game unscathed, form an emotional bond with their Investigator and thus begins a beautiful friendship…until a shoggoth finally eats them or they are sent to live out the reminder of their days in a madhouse.

The plot of Dead Light resembles that of a survival horror movie or video game, where characters are picked off one at a time by a seemingly unstoppable monstrosity bent only on death and destruction. In this case, Dead Light features a lot more human on human violence (and murder) than you might be used to in a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Worry not, because the 1920s actually did have a higher murder rate than we have nowadays in 2013 (soon to be 2014), so petty robbery and nonsensical murder makes sense, even in a time when America seemed on top of the world. Once the horror is accidentally released, it will start picking off people in the surrounding area one by one until it is either defeated or you have a Total Party Kill. The good news for players is that there are a lot of NPCs that can (and should) be devoured before them, heightening the tension and terror. As well, the Investigators don’t necessarily need to beat the antagonist in this adventure – they can always choose to just try and survive. If they make it until dawn, they can also “win” that way…although trying to last that long will probably ratchet up the body count. There’s not a lot of combat to be had here, as trying to do physical battle with the creature is all but impossible and almost certainly lethal to the Investigators. There are ways to hurt it/contain it, but whether or not the characters discover these methods depends on where they choose to go and what they choose to do. As such, the adventure is pretty investigative for one where there is also a lot of death and that juxtaposition makes for a very unique experience.

As mentioned earlier, Dead Light is pretty light on rolling the bones. You’ll have some Luck and Sanity rolls obviously and Spot Hidden will be a big help with this adventure, but honestly, the most rolling that will occur will probably be with Dodge and Drive Auto, the latter mainly due to the horrific storm that just happens to be occurring the night of the adventure. This means characters will live or die based on the decisions they make, so don’t be afraid to burn your Luck or ask for Idea rolls if you play this.

Besides the unusual nature of how the adventure unfolds, this really is a standard style CoC adventure. You have a nameless horror that defies description, investigation is needed to discover how these events came to pass as well as how to end them, sanity will be dropping like rain and a good time will be had by all. The good news is that the adventure eschews all the standard tropes of Call of Cthulhu, so there won’t be any Mi-Go, Deep Ones or Serpent People. There are no cults to foil nor do you have to sit in a library for hours on end, hoping to find the one tome you need, containing a spell that will save the day. The only real tropes the adventure contains is exploring a spooky house and finding a diary that explains how these events came to be (and that also gives you some Cthulhu Mythos points). I’m really happy to see Chaosium giving gamers something outside the box with this one. Sure the adventure sometimes feels more Chill or Cryptworld than Call of Cthulhu at times, but it still keeps the mood and feel of the setting. If you absolutely have to have a Mythos creature rear its head in your adventures, you might be disappointed here, but I can safely say that the antagonist of Dead Light feels right at home with the eldritch horrors and nameless terrors Lovecraft and his contemporaries created in their day.

Dead Light probably isn’t an adventure for everyone –especially gamers who don’t like feeling as if they are “on rails” for an entire adventure, but a good Keeper can hide that aspect of this piece, and really make the adventure stand out as a memorable experience for all. I’ll admit I went into this going, “Survival Horror? Oh god.” and I came away really impressed with the layout, flow and plot of Dead Light. I’m especially glad I got this adventure for free and can easily recommend it for the $6.95 price tag it comes with if you didn’t back 7e via Kickstarter. Dead Light is a solid experience from beginning to end and my only caveat is that you really need a quality Keeper who can run this without turning it into a “players vs. Keeper” experience, because no one likes those. The vast majority of people that pick up Dead Light will have a lot of fun with it, and really, what more do you need from an adventure, right?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dead Light
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Valiant Universe RPG Quick Start Rules: Featuring Unity
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2014 08:03:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/02/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-quick-start-rules-featuring-unity/

Although a lot of gamers got their start with Dungeons & Dragons, my first tabletop RPG was actually a different TSR game – Marvel Super Heroes. The FASERIP system was a lot of fun, very easy to learn (even in single digits of age) and I loved the random character generation process. The game still remains one of my favorites to this day. Another classic Super Hero RPG was Mayfair’s DC Heroes Role Playing Game. It had one of the best super hero character building systems ever and the mechanics were solid. For over thirty years, these two games have been the measuring stick with what I judge other super hero games, be they Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, Heroes Unlimited, later terrible incarnations of Marvel games I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, TMNT and other Strangeness, Villains and Vigilantes and more.

Now however, we have Valiant Universe RPG. I’ll be honest as much as I was DC and Marvel fans as a kid, the 90s brought me Valiant comics and it quickly became my favorite universe. Shadowman by Bob Hall and Steve Englehart. Rai by Bob Layton and David Michelinie. Harbinger by Jim Shooter. X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Quantum and Woody, and more! Valiant picked up the best writers and artists from comics and gave us the best cohesive universe I’d ever seen. Alas, it died off almost as quickly as it was born, for which I personally blame Acclaim Entertainment (Yes, the video game company. It’s a long story) and for more than a decade the characters of Valiant lay dormant save for those owned by Gold Key Studios. You can’t keep a good thing down though and about two years ago, Valiant came back with a vengeance – rebooting everything, but sticking to what made it work in the first place – collecting the best storytellers and artists in comics and delivering a universe full of continuity and characterization. I have pullbox subscriptions for every comic they put out and if you look at my list of comics I picked up in April you’d see it consist of 9 Valiant, 7 DC, 4 Marvel and 1 IDW. So as you can tell, I’ve been a Valiant fan since the dawn of its first incarnation, as well as a long time role-player, so Valiant Universe RPG was something I’ve been waiting a long time for.

Unlike most games, which only put out a single set of Quick Start Rules to entice buyers to pick up the real thing, Catalyst Game Labs is actually doing a set of SIX, which each one covering a different facet of the Valiant universe. This first QSR release covers a very simplified version of the rules and Unity. May through July will see a whopping FIVE QSR releases on the Harbinger Wars event that ran last year, each covering a different faction in that fight: Bloodshot, Generation Zero, The Harbinger Foundation, The Renegades and H.A.R.D. Corps. That’s a pretty interesting way to build hype for a brand new game and it will be interesting to see if it works or not. Besides this set of six PDFs, there will also be a physical Quick Start Rules set available at your local brick and mortar stores on Free RPG Day 2014. If that’s not enough the Core Rulebook for Valiant Universe RPG will be available digitally on July 5th and physically in August (probably later in real life because that’s how our industry rolls). I’m really impressed by CGL and Valiant’s game plan for this new RPG and I can’t deny out of all the new systems scheduled for 2014, this has been the one I’ve been most excited for (Sorry Pirates & Dragons).

Of course just because a game has a license with a large fandom behind it doesn’t mean the game is going to be a good one. For every Ghosts of Albion or Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is a Know Your Role or Street Fighter RPG that is pretty terrible. So where does Valiant Universe RPG fall? Well, it’s impossible to tell from a twenty-six page set of Quick Start Rules. These are a simplified bare bones version of the real thing after all. I will say that the game looks exceedingly promising. At first glance, the Cue System (the mechanics for Valiant Universe RPG) seems to be a mix of Savage Worlds (Yay!) and Cortex (Boo!).

It’s very interesting that unlike most games which have a designated DM/GM/Keeper/Storyteller/what have you, every player takes a turn at being the Lead Narrator. This is an unusual choice as most gaming groups have one or two people that are good or like to run the game while the others just want to play as characters. The upside to this is everyone gets a chance to run things and at no time will there ever be the threat of “GMs vs Players” which ruins so many games. It also means that the game is unique in that adventures are a group creation where everyone contributes to the storytelling instead of just being along for the ride. There are downsides though, like when a person who sucks at GM’ing is up for the Lead Narrator role. As well, it means that due to the “telephone” like nature of Lead Narration the adventure may turn out totally differently from how it was originally intended. This isn’t a bad thing on its own, but it does mean you won’t see people spend time crafting and honing their own homebrew adventures. I can’t even begin to imagine how published adventures will work with this style of GM’ing. This doesn’t put me off though. If anything, it has me all the more curious for the final version. As well, the text clearly states you can run Valiant Universe RPG with a single Lead Narrator like any other game, so if the new idea doesn’t pan out, go back to basics!

There are no rules for character creation in this set of Quick Start Rules, which is fine. I am curious if there will be any, or if it will be more like the Cortex Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game where you only play as established canon characters. In this set of QSRs, you get four playable PCs, which are the original members of Unity. You have Toyo Harada, Gilad Anni-Padda – the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak (YES!) and Livewire. It makes sense to start with a team based group as a solo character like Shadowman would be a poor choice for a QSR, while an awesome choice for a solo adventure. Choosing Unity also made some of the biggest names in Valiant playable right off the bat, so this was a great choice overall, even if my favorite current Valiant Comic (Archer & Armstrong) won’t have its characters show up in any of the planned QSR sets.

The adventure for this Unity set follows this first story arc of Unity almost to the letter. The team is gathered to takedown X-O Manowar, who has recently taken over Romania and given it back to the Visigoths. Russia is planning a nuclear strike as nothing else seems has even made Aric of Dacia flinch, but Harada knows that will be disastrous for the entire world. As such, he has gathered a powerful group of heroes to save the day. Of course, if you have read the comics, you know that things don’t run smoothly. I won’t spoil the adventure, but I will say it is a lot of fun and that it is one of the best conversions from comic to tabletop I’ve ever seen. Of course, this does not mean you’re on rails to follow the comic storyline exactly. There are some examples in the text of how wildly divergent the adventure can stray from the comics up. This was very well done, but I do admit I hope to see some original adventures for characters down the road. Just following a comic arc makes sense for a QSR set as it is something Valiant fans will already be familiar with and can follow without having to strain their creative muscles too much. It would be dull if every adventure was based on a previously written comic book though.

So let’s talk playing the game. Again, these are not the final rules for the game, but simplified QSR mechanics. Each character has five core stats: Might (Strength and Stamina), Intellect, Charisma, Action (Fighting ability) and Luck. Luck is a solid non mutable number for each character. For example, Ninjak has 9 while Harada has 3. The other four stats are assigned a die. A stat will either have a D4, D6, D8, D10 or D12 attached to it, with the higher die representing more potential power. When a character has to make a roll. The player rolls the die corresponding to that trait and a d12. The two results are added together. The Lead Narrator then makes an opposing roll with a d20. Whoever gets the high result wins. Yes, resolving dice rolls are that easy/simple. So for example, if Ninjak wants to kick through a locked door (he doesn’t have time to pick the lock), he would roll his Might die (d8) and a d12 and add the result together. Then the Lead Narrator would roll that d20. If the player wins the roll, the action goes exactly as planned. If the Lead Narrator wins…it does not. Now a LN winning the roll doesn’t mean failure – it simply means they get to decide what happens. So for example, if Ninjack gets a 12 and the Lead Narrator gets a 19, the LN could say Ninjak does indeed kick through the door, but that it leg goes right through it as the door was brittle and old and he has to spend his next turn pulling his leg out of the hole he just made. If a player decides to use a power for an action, they get to roll the die associated with that power, the stat die and the d12. They don’t get to add all three results together though. Instead, they drop the lowest die and add the two remaining results together before the LN makes the opposing role. So let’s look at that scenario again. This time it’s the Eternal Warrior trying to break down the door with a sword. He would get to roll his Might die (d10), his power die of Weapon Mastery (d12) and the regular d12 die. So that’s two d12s and a d10 and then he would drop the lowest of the three. The LN would then roll its d20 and see who wins. Looking at it though, GIliad has a better chance of getting through the door than Ninjak, doesn’t he?

There is one exception to the above scenario and that is where luck comes in. If a player rolls his dice and one comes up with his luck number, it is an automatic success. So if any of Giliad’s three dice came up showing a 10, the LN doesn’t even need to roll – the action is a success. There can also be modifiers to die rolls just as in any game, chosen at the Lead Narrator’s discretion. Combat between two characters is a straight up Action Die vs Action Die with Modifiers. I should point out that ranged combat, at least in this QSR set has a pretty big advantage over melee. It’ll be interesting to see how much that holds up in the core rules once they are released, but for right now, distance is king.

There are a few other areas to cover. Health is similar to Shadowrun or World of Darkness games in that characters have a set amount and as it goes down, they receive penalties to die rolls. Each character also has an armor pool which is deleted before Health starts to go. Plot Points are similar to GM intrusions from Numenera mixed with the Doom Pool from the Marvel Cortex game. So on and so forth. It’ll be interesting to see how the rules change with each Quick Start release and what the final version eventually looks like.

So overall, Valiant Universe RPG is looking like it is off to a great start. It’s definitely looking like a game long time tabletop gamers and newcomers can sit down and have fun playing. The rules are very easy to learn and are pretty instinctual once you start. I have no idea where CGL is going to take this game and how supplements, published adventures and character creation will work, but I’m very eager to find out. Who knows – maybe we’ll see a line of Valiant Universe RPG miniatures down the road. I’d love a Vincent Van Goat. Anyway, this Quick Start Rules set is free, so if you’re remotely interested in Valiant or tabletop RPGs, you should download this right away. Again, this is the first of many free samples Catalyst Game Labs will be giving out online, so you’re going to want to pick up the whole set for a better look at how Valiant Universe RPG is shaping up. I’ll be taking a look at each of the releases as they are made available, so join me back here every few weeks to see what’s new!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG Quick Start Rules: Featuring Unity
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Taking the Narrative by the Tail: GM Intrusions & Special Effects
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2014 08:12:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/30/tabletop-review-taking--
the-narrative-by-the-tail-gm-intrusions-special-effects-nume-
nera/

Taking the Narrative is the latest in a line of short supplements for Numenera by Monte Cook Games The PDF page count clocks in at seven but that includes both covers and each of the five pages with content have art and/or sidebars taking up a lot of room, so the content is brief and to the point. Of course, the piece is less than a buck hopefully you weren’t expecting some long tome revealing hundreds of pages of new information about the Ninth World.

Taking the Narrative is all about GM Intrusions and how to use them properly. For newcomers to Numenera, a GM intrusion is when the GM throws a monkey wrench or a roadblock into the player’s actions. It could be a door has a failsafe built in which prevents it from opening via electrical tampering. It could be an attack by some other life form. It could be that they drop their grappling hook halfway up a steep climb. A GM Intrusion can take pretty much any form. The catch is that an intrusion gives a Player (or players) XP for occurring and players can also trade in. So there is a nice trade-off for the DM acting as the fickle finger of fate. As well, a player can nullify the GM intrusion by refusing the XP and spending one of his own to craft a way (in-story) that the PCs sidestep this potential calamity. The end result is that everyone in the game, GM and players alike work together to craft the narrative instead of some games where the GM is God, what they say goes. Sometimes, those games can be ruined by a bad GM who delights in punishing his players or treats the game as something they have to win by beating (killing) the PCs. A bad GM can turn a game into something that feels like PCs are just along for the ride or worse, ruins the game that the players don’t want to play it or any other tabletop game at all. Thankfully Numenera is designed to prevent such a GM from dominating the Ninth World experience. GM Intrusions aren’t meant to prevent a PC from achieving their goals or “winning” the story. They’re meant to spice things up by throwing a new piece of drama or danger in. A Good GM intrusion is something like you are a day’s hike from your goal, but a terrible storm erupts cutting your progress in half. This allows PCs to duck into a nearby cave where there might be a subplot or subquest awaiting them. Maybe even an underground tunnel that brings them to the goal. Who knows? Of course they can always go the route they had planned, just at half the speed and possible taking damage from the storm. Either way the adventure continues as planned. There’s just a wrinkle in the roadmap so to speak. A bad GM intrusion would be, “While you are sleep a horde of hundreds of terrible thingies sneak up on you. Prepare for combat without any weapons or armor. Also, they have acid lasers.”

It makes sense why Monte Cook Games released a full supplement further explaining the concept of GM intrusions as it is a hard one for long time gamers used to letting dice act as the sole arbiter of fate. Some even have the mindset that when a GM sticks adds something not in the published adventure or rules that they are “cheating” or purposely trying to stick it to the PCs. That’s why it’s really important that all people playing Numenera read the GM Intrusion section in the core rulebook and understand how it works. It’s also why Taking the Narrative is a must by for any Numenera fan because it further fleshes out the concept, explains how it is an alternative to the way most tabletop RPGs are run (although not necessarily meant to be played) and most importantly, how a GM intrusion helps players and makes the game more interesting/fun in the long run. If you get the concept right off, you probably don’t need to by Taking the Narrative, but you should own it anyway for gamers in your group that have been burned by previous games and/or GMs and are expecting you to drop a tactical nuclear strike at any second if you show the slightest bit of disagreement or displeasure in how things are unfolding. It’s also helpful to give this to your GM if they think an “unexpected twist” or “didn’t see that coming moment” is more akin to Vince Russo style crash TV from late 90s WCW professional wrestling.

Besides a frank discussion of what a GM intrusion is and IS NOT, Taking the Narrative gives a whole host of examples of possible GM intrusions for various situations. Whether you’re a newcomer to GM’ing or you find it old hat, there are enough examples here to get your imagination rolling. Besides, you can always use one of the examples in your game. It’s what they are for, after all! You also get three brief paragraphs on minor and major Special Effects which occur when someone rolls a 19 or 20. There’s not much on the subject but between what is in the core rulebook and this little bit, you get a good sense of how the GM and player that scored the fortuitous role can work together to make a cool moment happen.

So while very short, Taking the Narrative by the Tail is a wonderful example of just what a supplement should be in this day and age of tabletop gaming. You get an in-depth clarification of what is something of a paradigm shift for some (but by no means all) gamers and a look at how to properly use it in your Numenera game. GM intrusions are one of the big features that makes Numenera stand out from a lot of other games with its built in checks and balances as well as the reminders that the GM and players work together rather than as adversaries. It’s a great concept that is further fleshed out in this supplement and it’s definitely something all Numenera fans should pick up. Hell, even if you’re NOT a Numenera fan, it’s something worth reading because it’s a nice look at how GMs should complement the narrative rather than dominate it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Taking the Narrative by the Tail: GM Intrusions & Special Effects
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Against the Cult of the Bat God
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2014 06:47:18
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/30/tabletop-review-against-
-the-cult-of-the-bat-god-pathfinder/

Against the Cult of the Bat God is an adventure for 5th Level Pathfinder characters, although the adventure does not say what the ideal party size should be. The adventure is designed for use with Raging Swan’s “Lonely Coast” campaign setting, but can easily be adapted to any Pathfinder game. In this adventure, players will be travelling to a creepy out of the way hamlet where the PCs will encounter a foul cult trying to restore their deity to full power. On the surface this sounds like a pretty generic affair, right? There are countless fantasy RPG adventures that have this same basic scenario. Most of them are terrible while a few like Lamentations of the Flame Princess‘s Scenic Dunnmouth completely rewrite the trope. Against the Cult of the Bat God lies somewhere in between. It’s a well written, if highly generic adventure that throws a few twists into the mix to help the adventure stand out from the large pack of like minded pieces.

One of the things I really like about adventures from Raging Swan Press is how organized they are. You are given multiple pages on how to read and use the adventure before it even begins, allowing even the most inexperienced or new DM to run the adventure. You are given information on how to read stat blocks, how to identify treasure (both magical and mundane) and a ton of information about the Lonely Coast. I was impressed by the sheer amount of detail provided here. Features, locations, mileage and travel times between city and so much more are provided before you even get into the meat of the adventure. The back of the adventure also contains a set of pregenerated characters for players to use if they have no desire or time to make their own. The Larry Elmore portraits for each one are really gorgeous, if not more than a little inspired by his earlier Dragonlance work. Now things are not perfect with Against the Cult of the Bat God. For example, on page 8 of the PDF, the population for Oakhurst is listed at 413 but on page 10, it is down to 121. There are other inconsistencies in the information ranging from alignment (Rasla Neblor for example is listed as Chaotic Neutral on page 10 but then as Chaotic Good on page 12.) on down. So while there is a lot of information to help you run Against the Cult of the Bat God, some of what is in the PDF is contradictory and makes the overall piece feel sloppy. A good editor could have caught much of this and usually RSP adventures ARE better than this. I’m not sure how so many errors got through in this one.

For whatever reason, the PCs have journeyed to the remote town of Oakhurst (there are several story hooks provided). Oakhurst is a backwater community full of rumours about dark magic, inbreeding and being a hotbed for all sorts of illegal activities. Most of the rumours turn out to be true. In addition to all this is the villainous cult of the Bat God who seek to help their god gain more power as well as fully manifest in this reality. Of course players have no idea about the cult of the Bat God when the adventure starts (unless the see the name of the adventure and let character and player knowledge bleed together). Players will have to discover the real horror plaguing Oakhurst once they have arrived on a unknowingly related matter.

Against the Cult of the Bat God is a sandbox style adventure. This means the PCs can openly explore Oakhurst and the surrounding area without feeling railroaded to a specific location by the DM. Now, some events will occur at specific locations at specific times, but these are to help the adventurers find the direction they need to go in order to complete the adventure. Of course there are also some events that occur if the players don’t reach specific goals in time, but this doesn’t necessarily mean “gave over” or that the PCs lose – just that there will be a much unhappier ending. The PCs have three full days in-game time to discover the machinations of the bat god cult and (hopefully) prevent them. There isn’t a great deal of combat in this adventure save towards the end. Most of the adventure is exploring and investigating, which is nice as too many Pathfinder adventures devolve into hack and slash dungeon crawls. Now that doesn’t mean Against the Cult of Bat God doesn’t have that – just that it is more balanced than most Pathfinder offerings, ensuring that every gamer will get to experience the part of tabletop RPGing they like best.

I will say I was very happy with the monster choices in this adventure. I have a soft spot for the main antagonist “race” ever since it appeared in the first Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium back in the golden era of AD&D 2e. It’s a logical choice for the adventure and the slight modifications to the Pathfinder version for this adventure are interesting ones. At the same time, I was very unhappy to see this adventure fall prey to the big problem plaguing most Pathfinder products, third and first party alike, which is the reference of way too many releases in order to make the adventure work as originally conceived. Now there’s nothing wrong with referencing two or three books beyond the core three books every Pathfinder player should have, but more than that and the adventure begins to not only thumb its nose at more casual players, but also makes a gamer feel like they need to spend a lot of cash on other Pathfinder releases to the point where it is the only game they can invest in. Unfortunately, Against the Cult of the Bat God references a whopping seventeen other Pathfinder releases, which is unacceptable. It’s a sign that the author is through and great at cross-referencing, but no adventure should require that math supplements and sourcebooks to run properly. In the adventure’s defense, Against the Cult of the Bat God does its best to make the adventure run as smoothly as possible without needed that actual enormity of dead trees, but that is still WAY too many releases for ANY adventure to reference.

Overall, Against the Cult of the Bat God is a decent, if forgettable, affair. It’s a well written adventure and extremely easy to use thanks to the layout and format provided by Raging Swan Press. The adventure is very generic in plot and follow through however, so some gamers may find this too close to dozens of other fantasy releases that they have encountered over the decades and thus not enjoy the experience. Still, the trope works and Against the Cult of the Bat God makes good use of it. For nine dollars though, there are a lot of better Pathfinder adventures out there and Against the Cult of the Bat God is a bit sloppy compared to other Raging Swan Press releases. Against the Cult of the Bat God might be worth picking up if it goes on sale, but for right now it’s a bit too generic and expensive compared to other options out there.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Cult of the Bat God
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the comprehensive review. I\'m very grateful for you taking the time to do so and I\'ll definitely keep your comments in mind when designing upcoming modules. I just wanted to comment on one facet of the review. While you are absolutely correct that the OGL section for this adventure lists 17 products, you don\'t need all of them to run the adventure! Unfortunately the way the OGL works is that if I reference (for example) The Lonely Coast in a product I\'m legally obliged to list all the products the Lonely Coast references even if they have nothing to do with the adventure! In this example, The Lonely Coast references six products which have nothing to do with the module and which you absolutely do not need to have to run Against the Cult of the Bat God! Hopefully, with the exception of specific feat and spell descriptions from other books, the adventure text should contain almost everything you need to run it. I agree with you that adding new stuff in just for the sake of doing so is not a great design choice and we try to avoid that at Raging Swan Press. Thanks again for the review. I look forward to more of the same!
The 11th Hour [PFRPG adventure]
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2014 08:08:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/29/tabletop-review-the-11t-
h-hour-pathfinder/

Contrary to what you might think, The 11th Hour is not based off of the old Trilobyte sequel to The Seventh Guest. It’s actually got more in common with the old Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. I have to admit, from the name and cover, I WAS expecting a horror adventure, but what I ended up getting was a pleasant surprise.

The 11th Hour is an adventure for 1st Level characters. There is no mention of what size party the adventure is made for, but in truth, it doesn’t need one. The adventure can work just as well as a solo piece as it would for a party the size of a Dungeon Crawl Classics 0 Level game. How is that possible? Well, the adventure is pretty much combat free, and the players will be using their wits instead of flexing their muscles for the entirety of the affair. I say “pretty much,” because gamers being gamers, their characters could just go on a mad killing spree, murdering every NPC involved in the adventure as an attempt to “solve” things. Every so often you get a player or a full group with that thought process, so just a heads up that even though the adventure does its best to present a fun and challenging mystery for neophyte characters, someone may decide to go stab-happy.

Like many an adventure, The 11th Hour starts in a local inn/tavern. However, that’s as close to the usual tropes as the adventure gets. Once inside, the players will soon discover that they are stuck in a time loop, repeating the same hour over and over again. What’s more, the PCs are the only ones that seem to notice the loop is happening, while everyone else in the tavern are blissfully unaware, continuing to take the same actions they did before unless interrupted. It is up to the PCs to figure out why the loop is happening and how to stop it.

What’s more, The 11th Hour is designed to be played in real time, so that pace of the adventure flows with real world time. Adventures that are able to pull this off well are rare, but The 11th Hour does a great job. Perhaps not as well as Bride of the Black Manse, but that adventure is four hours long, while The 11th Hour has you repeating the same hour over and over until players figure it out. While the adventure is well written, the fact it is “only” an hour long means the DM needs to be very prepared to pull this off. The 11th Hour may be a great adventure to run for beginning and veteran players alike, but it really does need a highly experienced DM to keep track of everything, or the adventure will fall apart. All you need to do is miss one or two time cues and things can go bad.

The adventure is as hard or as easy as your players make it. They do have to pay attention to details, and this is a rare Pathfinder adventure, as role-playing takes precedence over roll-playing, but overthinking can make The 11th Hour harder than it should be. So far I’ve seen players go through it several times with the real world pacing throwing them off, and I’ve also seen a team get the adventure right on the first try thanks to having a Druid in the party. It all just depends on how used to non-combat adventures your gaming pals are and how quickly they adjust to playing an adventure in real time instead of a ten second battle taking an hour to play out.

All in all, The 11th Hour is a great adventure. It’s a nice change of pace from the hack and slash fare that most Pathfinder adventures (especially third party released) end up being. The PDF purchase price of five dollars might seem a bit much for only nineteen pages, but it is in full color, has some great art and also includes three maps for players and the DM to use. I really liked how outside the box The 11th Hour was. I wish more companies that produced content for Pathfinder would do adventures like this instead of the same old dungeon crawl hack and slash experience. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air to give new life to Pathfinder, you should seriously consider The 11th Hour. It’s not for everyone, but the uniqueness of the adventure makes it a great way to introduce people to the mechanics of Pathfinder before overwhelming them with how intense combat can be.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The 11th Hour [PFRPG adventure]
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Pro RPG Audio: 1890s Train Station Platform
Publisher: Plate Mail Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2014 06:30:49
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/29/tabletop-review-rpg-bac-
kground-loops-mp3-1890s-train-station-plateform/

I usually don’t review audio tracks for RPGs, but I’m making an exception for this one, mainly because it fits the one campaign that I DO use audio tracks for, and that’s Horror on the Orient Express. With the re-release for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition coming out in a few months, this seemed like the perfect chance to try out 1890s Train Station Plateform (Yes, that’s how platform is spelled in the official title. I’m assuming it is a pun on the company’s name rather than sloppy editing.) to see if it would be a good fit for my campaign.

At a dollar-fifty, 1890s Train Station Plateform is in line with most MP3 downloads these days, and a good bargain considering it is a full ten minutes long. The track is wonderfully done and features all sorts of background noises that do indeed sound like a train journey. You have the murmur of speakers all around you, footsteps of passerbys hurrying to their destination, and of course, all sorts of train noises. The blaring of a horn, the hiss of brakes and the chug-chug-chug of the locomotive and its assorted train cars as it moves along. I should point out that the title of the track, 1890s Train Station Platform isn’t necessarily fitting though. The track can definitely be used with a 1920s setting, or any setting, really, outside of modern times. It’s very well done.

It is odd that the track also contains sounds you would hear if you were ON a train rather than at a station, as you normally wouldn’t hear a quiet repetition of train noises at a station. So the track seems to want to be two pieces, a train station and a train journey, rather than just the station. Unfortunately, the train journey sounds are too short to work as that kind of track, and so, in the end, the track comes off as a bunch of very short train journeys rather than one atmospheric track of an actual train station/platform. Perhaps Plate Mail Games should have made two tracks, one for each, as it would have served interested parties better and made them some more money. Of course, you’ll only notice these issues if you listen to the track closely and on loop for an hour as I did to do this review. Most gamers who are just listening to it as background noise as they game will find this fantastic. I did go through all 100+ entries in Plate Mail Games’ catalog, but this was the only train piece I could find. Alas.

I’ll definitely use 1890s Train Station Plateform with my Horror on the Orient Express campaign. It’s also a great compliment to Train Ride Into Darkness, by Game Soapbox Productions, LLC, which is a thirty-three minute collection of nine MP3s. That set costs only $4.95 and so together, you have an excellent collection of train and Cthulhu-esque sounds for your Victorian and/or 1920s horror game of choice. If you decide to download this track and like what you hear, Plate Mail Games does have a lot of options for you. The choices range from Sci-Fi to Super Heroes, so variety is not a problem here. They also offer audio previews that you can listen to on DriveThruRPG.com, so if you’re looking for some tracks to add a little flavor to your game, you might find what you’re looking for with Plate Mail Games.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Pro RPG Audio: 1890s Train Station Platform
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for your review. The name was not a pun, it was sloppy editing on my part. You write Plate enough times that when you get to Plat you throw an e in out of habit. The mistake has been fixed.
Shadowrun: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Enhanced Fiction)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/25/2014 06:21:38
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/25/book-review-sail-away-s-
weet-sister-shadowrun/

Sail Away, Sweet Sister is the latest piece of “enhanced fiction” for Shadowrun. Enhanced Fiction simply means that at the end of the short story you get stats for the characters you just read about and maybe a few brief bits of mechanics. Sail Away, Sweet Sister is actually a direct sequel to a previous piece of enhanced fiction, Another Rainy Night, which was released a little over two years ago. That’s a long stretch between stories that are only two dozen pages in length, so I did find I had to re-read Another Rainy Night to remind myself of everything that happened in the previous tale. It’s worth noting that Sail Away, Sweet Sister can be read as a standalone, but it works FAR better if you read them both back to back. Otherwise you’ll miss some details and nuances that only carry over if you are familiar with both tales. The story is written in such a way that assumes you are familiar with Another Rainy Night which may cause a little bit of confusion in those that pick this up first. You’ll see reference to previous events and players that aren’t explained at all here, but were in Another Rainy Night, so just a head’s up there. Unfortunately, Another Rainy Night still has the $4.99 price tag attached to it. I was happy to see that CGL read my review of Another Rainy Night, because I said the sweet spot for a short piece of fiction like this would be $1.99. Lo and behold, that’s the price tag on Sail Away, Sweet Sister. Now if only they could go back and reduce the price on Another Rainy Night, everything would be awesome.

Sail Away, Sweet Sister also plays off another long untouched Shadowrun plot thread, this time from Storm Front, which closed out Shadowrun, Fourth Edition in April of 2013. In this case, we finally get to hear more about how vampires, ghouls and other “undead” are becoming more photosensitive while also suffering from stronger urges and hunger pains. Like Another Rainy Night, I’m glad to see someone over at CGL finally doing something with these dangling plot threads left over from 4e, but unless you’ve read both Another Rainy Night and Storm Front, you probably had no idea about the changes in the HMHVV community, both physically and socially. So for people to Shadowrun Fifth Edition, you’re probably going to feel out of the loop with this story, especially since it happens smack dab during Fourth Edition dates-wise. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, just that you’re getting a story that is a few years (in-game and real life) behind the current meta-plot currently featured in Shadowrun.

When we last left Dr. Thomas McAllister and Knight Errant copy Lydia Bowen, they had finally put an end to the Mealtime Killer, a notorious serial killer who had killed roughly two dozen people before it was finally put down. In Sail Away, Sweet Sister, we learn that much like Doink the Clown, there is more than one MTK, perhaps many more. While the first MTK was someone obsessed with Thomas McAllister, the revelation of who the second is hits far closer to home with our main character as it is his sister. We also learn more about the Fear the Dark organization, which appears to be either a vampiric terrorist organization or a group of vampire traditionalists who want a return to the pre-Twilight version of vampires who are the natural predators of meta-humanity, which fears and loathes them. Hey, maybe it’s both! We don’t really get enough details on Fear the Dark, which heavily implies this will be continues in either another short story, supplement or sourcebook. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another two years to get the next part.

We get a lot of new characters with Sail Away, Sweet Sister. There is the enigmatic Minotaur, Jericho and the dwarven vampire Seamus, which really makes me think Patrick Goodman (author of the story) is a big wrestling fan as there seems to be a lot of subtle nods to it in his stories (hence the earlier Doink reference). I liked both characters, especially Seamus as he is a good reminder that not all Sixth World vampires are turning into second rate Vampire: The Masquerade wanna-bes. I also liked his fire elemental sidekick. I have a soft spot for friendly fire elementals as one of my own characters from back in the day had one. You’ll also meet Thomas’ ex-wife and of course, his sister Lenore. The cast is really well done in this book and even characters who only show up for a cup of coffee, like the two Lone Star agents, have very fleshed out personalities. There’s more character development in these twenty-four pages than you see in some gaming-licensed novels, which is impressive.

That’s not to say that the story is flawless. I felt it was a little too paint by numbers in that I’ve read several vampires stories with the same basic plot and resolution. The only difference here was that it involved a Shadowrun setting. I had déjà vu for much of the story, knowing exactly how it was going to go down long before I reached the actual pages confirming what I already suspected. The ending also really falls apart for me as it got really cheesy and flew in the face of the character development we’ve seen in not just this story but Another Rainy Night as well. It wasn’t hackneyed, but it was paint by numbers. I also really didn’t like that the story seems to be setting up Sixth World vampires for becoming VERY White Wolfish, complete with a Beast (or Monster as it is referred to here) that can control a vampire’s action when hurt or hungry. I’m really hoping this was a one-time case of schizophrenia (or some other mental derangement equivalent) brought on by being a vampire rather than have it turn out HMHVV is going to cause sufferers to have a more bestial second personality (or god forbid demon or extraplanar entity possession) as that’s not only stupid, but it takes away a lot of the uniqueness of Shadowrun “undead.” If I want angsty vampires fighting themselves over the eventual erosion of their humanity, I have V:TM or V:TR for that…not to mention that old Shadowrun/cyberware guide for V:TM that was published back in the mid 90s. So overall, I’d say I’m happy we got a continuation of Another Rainy Night but that Sail Away, Sweet Sister is nowhere as good or original a read. I’m hoping this was just ring rust after being away from the characters for so long and that the third installment in the series (if there is one) will be back up to the same level of quality we had in Another Rainy Night.

I should end this review by bringing up the “enhanced fiction” part. You get stat blocks for Thomas, Lydia, Lenore, Karla and Colonel Anne Ravenhurst. You’re also getting Fourth AND Fifth Edition stat blocks for each of the aforementioned characters. The 4e stats for Lydia and Thomas are ripped straight from Another Rainy Night, which is a good thing as it shows continuity. If the stats blocks were wildly different, I’d have to wonder what was up. I’m really glad to see stats for the two latest editions of Shadowrun as is helps ease edition wars and lets fans of each game use the characters without having to do any conversion. We also get two new SR5 positive Qualities, a few new weapons and a page of mechanics on drug called Renfield and how it affects those who take it. All in all, there is something for Shadowrun fans who like the fiction and/or the mechanics, so everyone who picks this up should find something to enjoy here.

So if you’re still with me, here’s what you need to know. Is Sail Away, Sweet Sister as good as Another Rainy Night? No. Should you still pick it up? Absolutely. While the story isn’t as good, it is still a fun read and even with the flaws I talked about earlier, you’ll end the tale wanting to know what happens next. That’s a good sign. It’s also a LOT cheaper than Another Rainy Night. The mechanics are well thought out and if that’s all you want from one of these releases, Sail Away, Sweet Sister is definitely the better choice, although Another Rainy Night DOES have some neat vampire hunting ammo. While not great literature by any means, Sail Away, Sweet Sister is entertaining and gives Sixth World fans the continuation of the story they have been waiting over two years for. The price point is perfect too, as even if you don’t like the story, it will only set you back two bucks. Again, let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two years for another installment of the continuing adventures of Thomas McAllister or a year for another slight update on the changes to HMHVV sufferers in the Sixth World.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Enhanced Fiction)
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